August 26th, 2007


My Theory

Hi All,

This question is kind of in response to that other one about when different countries begin teaching foreign languages.  Everybody knows that immersion from a young age is the best way to learn a language, yet hardly any school system works on that logic.  Many countries begin at the age of 11 or so, where it's true that language can still be acquired, but it's not as easy anymore.  Here in Israel, many parents dish out large sums of money for English summer camps or after school English programs, many of which start in preschool, which everyone knows is a better time to do it.

My theory is that the reason why (especially non-English speaking) countries wait until the peak language learning age is over to begin learning is because they want it to be hard.  Take Israel for example.  We are the only country in the world to speak Hebrew, therefore knowing Hebrew is not really an asset that will help you much in life anywhere but here.  If we Israelis were to speak English as well as we speak Hebrew, we'd have no reason to use Hebrew, as it is much less useful.  We have to be programmed to percieve Hebrew as easier or translators would have no jobs, more and more in this country would be in English, and Hebrew would die out.  The same goes for any other relatively small country that's the only country to speak its language, such as Finland, Hungary, Croatia, Sweden, etc.   On a lesser scale, because of the threat of the global village and the spreading of Americanism, and also the national pride that every country is entitled to have, it makes sense why each country should want to "preprogram" it's people to be most comfortable in the national language.

What do you think?
Callalily Hunk

A Brief Introduction

Good morning all!

I discovered this community recently in conjunction with my decision to enter the linguistics degree program at Boston University. The posts here are thoughtful and definitely add to my day. I am a native American English speaker with some background in Spanish and Hebrew. My linguistic interests are French and Russian and I am excited about the possibilities ahead as I have always had a love of languages. On the domestic side I am married and make my home in Somerville, Massachusetts, USA with my husband and our cat, Lewis. My husband is also a native American English speaker but he is also fluent in French...a big plus for me, :-)

And now for a bit of humor. This was posted online by a friend. Enjoy.


A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day.
"In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive.
In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative
is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a
double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room said, "Yeah, right."
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The language of the Garden of Eden

I was reading this description of how Sir James Lancaster acquired sheep and cattle from indigenous people of South Africa during his voyage to the East Indies in 1601-3 - he "made signes to them to bringe him downe sheepe and oxen; for he spake to them in the cattels language (which was never changed at the confusion of Babell), which was moath for oxen and kine, and baa for sheep; which language the people understood very well without any interpreter." This set me thinking. He would surely have imitated the noise that the animals make rather than used the conventional English representations of those sounds, now 'moo' and 'baa', since there is quite a gap between these represenations and the sounds themselves. And it then occurred to me that I do not know the equivalent expressions even in many languages that I know quite well. Dictionaries are not necessarily of much help; I looked up 'moo', for instance, in a Dutch dictionary, and it only gave the Dutch equivalent for the English verb 'to low', which is another matter entirely.

So may I ask, what do sheep and cows say in your language or other languages that are known to you? Or are there any other interesting animal sounds (e.g. cat sounds; 'faire ronron' for 'purr' in French is very nice)?

One interesting fact that I do know is that sheep said βη βη (sorry, can't do the accents on this computer) in ancient Greek [the first letter being the equivalent of a b and the second of a long e]; and this is useful in teaching beginners how to pronounce the relevant vowel (eta), since it is actually much closer to proper sheep sound than the corresponding vowel sound in 'baa'!

English personal pronouns

Now I know modern English has three cases: nominative, accusative and genetive. But some of the personal pronouns seem to have more than three - I'm guessing it's the influence of Old English. I'd like to know what are the names of cases such as 'mine' and how does it grammatically differ from 'my'? When using English I know the difference, I wouldn't say "that's my" but "that's mine", just like I know the difference between 'her' and 'hers' or 'your' and 'yours', but I couldn't explain what the actual grammatical difference was.
bryonia alba

Teaching German

Can anyone recommend textbooks for teaching German to homeschooled kids? They are native speakers of American English living in Germany.
The teenagers have picked up quite a bit already when playing with German kids during an earlier stint in Bavaria but the younger ones are more or less beginners.

Also, what (German) books might be interesting for the teenagers? I've suggested the obvious (Harry Potter) but I'm sure there's more. What books are college students of German given to read?

Any suggestions are welcome, thanks in advance!


So I'm starting my second year of college, and I've got these two classes, in this order, with 10 minutes between to go down 2 flights of stairs:

First Year French Review (2 semesters of french crammed into one)
Introduction to Literary Analysis (Upper level spanish class)

Any tips on what i can do during my 10 minute break to switch my mind over to spanish so I'm not making a complete fool out of myself? Anyone have any experience in such poor scheduling?

Yes, I'm aware that I'm a fool for making my schedule like that. There was no other way to get those two classes...

A Self-deprecatory question... Or should it be Self-depreciatory?

I always thought that the faux-modest response which pretended to make light of my general all-round brilliance - A genius? Moi? No, I am but a simple soul - was self-deprecatory (or self-deprecating). But I noticed that the book I was reading said 'self-depreciating'.

I checked in the OED and it says Self-depreciatory is the older term, now being swept aside by self-deprecatory - both being correct. The fact that it's used in my text book indicates that self-depreciation is on the rise again.

So which do you use? Where do you come from? And how old (roughly) are you? And if you are not a native English speaker, which term (if any) would you have been taught?

Edit Thank you everyone. It seems clear that 'self-deprecating' is still more popular, from Australia to Massachusetts via Carlisle and India.

Kanji- baku

When I was growing up, my favorite stuffed animal had been a baku that my grandmother had given me because I had such terrible nightmares. Since I've been feeling sentimental and would feel a little silly bringing a stuffed animal back to college with me, I though I would make a painting from the kanji. However, I don't know Japanese and the kanji on wikipedia is too small for me to make out clear enough to paint it. I was searching around the internet and the best I could find was this:

Is this the kanji for the Japanese mythical beast? It seems like baku also means "wheat" and "explode", and I just want to make sure that I get this right.

Also, I've always pronounced it like it's spelled, with no emphasis on either syllable. Is this correct?

Thanks so much for any and all help!

Cantonese Affection

Does anyone know what Cantonese naming conventions are like? Mostly for peers, but affectionate....I know that Cantonese speakers often use the names for little/big brother/sister, etc...but how do you hmmm...would you add something onto someone's name to make it affectionate? Think like boyfriend/girlfriend type names....also, any words that are equivalent to honey/dear/sweetheart etc...

Thanks so much!


In the US, most people are familiar with the "Alphabet Song" -- it's a simple tune that many children use to remember the names of the letters in the English alphabet.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, you can hear it here.

Do any other languages have such a song?  I am especially curious about Russian, and any other language that does not use the Roman alphabet.

Brothels and Pirates


Why hello there! I come with a question. I've recently started working at a music store in my local mall, and well, often we have Spanish speakers come in that barely know English. While Spanish is my major, I'm no where near fluent and while I do know the words for 'cd' and such, I haven't learned phrases yet that would be useful in retail.

So, I would like to know, what are the best ways to say things like, "Is there anything I can help you find today?", "Would you be interested in purchasing (insert item name here)?", and other similar questions.

Thanks guys!
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the last post reminded me of a couple of questions that i had.

i just started working in a book store, and while i spoke french daily at my last job i never had to approach people...! Collapse )
ultra peepi, zim

learning a different dialect of your primary language

sorry if this is a 'just google it kind of question' but my mind is kind of mushed and i did google it but i didn't find quite what i was looking for.

i'm wondering about when actors learn dialects for their roles. where do they learn it from? i'm curious, because i'd like to learn other english dialects. i'm not trying to fool anyone and i'm not an actor, but i just really like them.

would there be any online resources for this?